By Mick Hatten
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Lauren Bench admits that goaltending did not grab her as a passion when she started playing hockey.
She did not make the move to the position when it first became available to her.
“I think it was fifth grade when I started playing there full time,” said Bench, who will be a redshirt junior for the Bemidji State women’s team this fall. “I actually hated playing goalie when I first started (in kindergarten).
“Everyone had to try it and my coach kind of made me keep playing. I just didn’t want to be in net. Then eventually it clicked where, ‘Hey, I’m starting to get kind of good at this.’ It got more fun and the rest is history.”
She was a five-year letterwinner in hockey at Burnsville High School, helping the Blaze to the state tournament in 2014.
Bench got involved in the Minnesota Hockey CCM High Performance Dave Peterson Goalie Camp the summer between her eight-grade and freshman year of high school. The invite-only camp is for some of the top players in the state of Minnesota ages 15-17.
This is the second year that the camp has also included a shooters camp and this is the third year that Bench has come back to be an instructor at the camp, which began Thursday, Aug. 1, and runs through Aug. 4 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
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Even though she’s an instructor, Bench can be found with the players and participating in lectures and drills with other instructors at the camp.
“She has that passion to get better,” said camp director Steve Carroll, who has worked at the camp all 15 years that it has been run. “She’s going into her (junior) year at Bemidji State and she’s asking questions of the presenters, asking questions of the coaches. That’s why she’s become one of the premier goaltenders in the WCHA.”
That dogged pursuit of improving is something that Carroll said he saw in Bench when she was in camp as a player.
“As a ninth-grader, she was one of the younger kids at camp, but was always in the lead of the line, sat in front in the classroom and would ask questions, was engaged with the coaching staff on the ice,” Carroll said of Bench, who helped Burnsville to the state tournament as a sophomore. “You could see the development take place in front of your eyes.”
Bench sitting in the front of a classroom is not something new to her. She is a chemistry and biology double major with a minor in business at Bemidji State and wants to go on to medical school after she gets her undergraduate degree.
She’s not just getting by scholastically either. She been named a WCHA Scholar-Athlete each of the last two seasons. To receive WCHA Scholar-Athlete recognition, players must have completed at least one year at their college prior to that academic year and also have a grade-point average of at least 3.50 (on a 4.0 scale) for the previous two semesters or three quarters, or may qualify if their overall GPA is at least 3.50.
Perhaps the most troubling part of her redshirt sophomore school year came on a report card.
“I had a 4.0 until my first semester this year when I got a ‘B’ in a one-credit class, which kind of sucks,” she said. “I’m a perfectionist, so a ‘B’ to me is a failure. That’s something I’m working on.
“I expect the best out of myself in all aspects of my life, not just hockey. I want to be an all-around person not just an all-around athlete.”
Being a perfectionist as a goalie has to be difficult because shutouts are rare. Bench was an All-WCHA Third Team selection last season after going 9-11-2 with a .909 save percentage and 2.51 goals-against average in 23 games.
So what is Bench working on for this season?
“My biggest thing that I was working on was the mental side of (goaltending), just being more consistent,” said Bench, who was 8-9-0 with a .903 save percentage and 2.71 GAA in 19 games as a freshman. “I saw a sports psychologist this past year and I think that took my game to the next level.
“Being able to have somebody to talk through things really helped me to develop a game plan and be able to put that into my hockey. Even when I have a bad game, it’s all right, what happened mentally instead of which goals did you let in. That was something I never focused on before I came to college.”
What she has gained in strengthening the mental side of her game is what Bench is trying to pass onto the goalies at the camp.
“When you get scored on, it’s not the end of the world and you’re here to get better,” she said of her message. “There’s no success without failure. You’ve got to want to get shots and making mistakes is where you’re going to be able to push yourself and see where you’re getting better.
“That frustration is what kills a lot of young goalies’ (confidence), letting yourself dwell on that you just got scored on in practice instead of thinking, ‘OK, I’ve got the next shot.’ That’s the biggest thing when I train young goalies is dealing with the frustration and dealing with getting past getting scored on and learning from getting scored on.”
About the camp
There are 50 goalies and 65 shooters at the CCM Minnesota Hockey High Performance Dave Peterson Goalie and Shooting Camps this weekend with 15 coaches, according to Carroll.
Players are invited to the camp after being selected to all-section teams in high school or all-district teams in youth hockey.
The goalie camp originally was held in Blaine before being moved to the St. Cloud State campus. Carroll said that the camp was moved onto campus to give players a college-like experience, living in the dorms and eating meals in the dining hall.